State tourism officials aim to set records for visitor arrivals and spending in 2014 and 2015, which if achieved would result in a four-year run of record-setting years for Hawaii’s No. 1 industry.

Hawaii Tourism Authority board members have set a goal of luring 8.41 million travelers to the islands next year. The target reflects an increase of 1.9 percent over the record 8.25 million arrivals expected to be achieved this year.

Likewise, officials set a 2015 goal of achieving $15.11 billion in visitor spending, which is 2.8 percent above the record $14.69 billion in spending anticipated this year. The new 2015 targets indicate officials expect the record-setting growth that they have experienced since 2012 to continue. However, they made some downgrades to their original 2014 targets, which acknowledge that the pace will plateau.

“It’s no secret that the percentage of growth is starting to narrow. We’ll end up ahead of 2013 in 2014 — not as much as first projected but still decent growth,” said David Uchiyama, HTA vice president of brand management.

As a result, HTA has dropped its 2014 spending goal by 6.6 percent and its visitor goal by 2.2 percent from the earlier targets that the board set in February. Revised 2014 targets show growth in visitor arrivals from nearly all source markets. However, the state’s core U.S. West market is expected to see tourists drop to 3.1 million, a 1.3 percent year-over-year decline. Likewise, visitors from burgeoning Latin American markets are anticipated to shrink by 10.6 percent to 27,060, and the cruise market is targeted to drop by 20.2 percent to 136,500.

Uchiyama said Hawaii enjoyed a strong run-up in tourism growth in 2012 and 2013. However, the emergence of more competitive destinations has lured some domestic travelers away from Hawaii, he said.

“Other destinations like Mexico and the Caribbean are trending behind us in the recovery and that’s hurt us to a degree because they are very aggressive,” Uchiyama said. “Going into 2015 we’ll see growth continue, but it’s not going to be as big as it was in the past.”

HTA President and CEO Mike McCartney said Mexico spends $53 million to Hawaii’s $26 million on marketing to North American travelers. He said Mexico and the Caribbean have 26,000 new hotel rooms spread over 200 projects planned for delivery in the next decade.

Similarly, increased competition from destinations in Southeast Asia, Korea, China, Okinawa and Guam have cut into visitors from Hawaii’s Asian markets, Uchiyama said. As a result, Hawaii’s top international market, Japan, is no longer expected to reach 2 million visitor arrivals by 2016 as outlined in a memorandum of understanding with the Japan Association of Travel Agents, he said.

Erlina Compton, a visitor from New South Wales who was vacationing at the Hilton Hawaiian Village on Friday with her husband, Dan, and 3-year-old son, Brigalow, said many friends have taken trips to Taiwan, Bali and Fiji, a destination that is cheaper than going to the beaches of Queensland in Northeast Australia.

“Hawaii is farther away so its a much more expensive place,” Compton said. “We chose to come here because we had a stopover on our way back from Alaska. So far, it’s been really awesome. It’s definitely a good family destination.”

Ronald Walker, a visitor from Los Angeles, said on Friday that he was equally psyched to visit Oahu.

“Oh my God, I got so pumped when my family told me in April that they were sending me on a trip to Hawaii for my high school graduation,” Walker said during a break from his surf lesson. “I knew it would be green, and I thought that the beaches would be nice. Actually, it’s even better than I thought.”

Still, McCartney said Hawaii is facing increasingly greater competition from other places in the world that are working hard to steal business.

“Just because we’ve reached record levels doesn’t mean that we are out of the woods,” he said. “Other countries are gaining on us. We cannot be complacent. We want to remind everyone that this is the time to work even harder.”

The HTA is hosting a tourism conference Thursday and Friday at the Hawai’i Convention Center to discuss the state of the industry.

“This year’s conference will provide Hawaii’s visitor industry with the knowledge and information to help maintain the momentum of one of the state’s lead economic drivers,” McCartney said.

This year’s conference will feature industry experts including Brad DiFiore of Ailevon Air Service Consulting; Douglas Quinby of PhoCusWright; Todd Skelton from TripAdvisor; Vish Bhatia of Hotelsoft Inc.; and Kiersten Faulkner from Historic Hawai’i Foundation.

At the conference, HTA’s global marketing partners also will reveal their 2015 marketing plans.

“It’s very important to hear about what our contractors have to say. Anytime that you get to the level that we’ve gotten, progressing means getting to the details and fine-tuning of our strategies,” Uchiyama said. “We’ll also talk about our efforts online and stress that going into 2015 we’ve increased budgets for all international contractors because our focus is on raising expenditures and those markets have shown that their daily spending will help us meet our goals.”

Tags: hawaii, tourism
Photo Credit: Tourists on Lanikai Beach in Kailua, Hawaii. Audrey McAvoy / Associated Press